Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Urns & Outs: Someday Saying Goodbye

(As published in the Fall edition of "Urns & Outs" in the Dead Beat Magazine)
     My mom likes to bring up old stories from when I was a kid. She is particularly good at doing this when others are around, or when she is telling my son, Collin, of my childhood. Recently she reminded me of a story from the time I was about five years old when I was visiting her and she was cleaning out some stuff, clothes, toys, etc., to donate to Goodwill. One item that was up for donation was a stuffed pig that was in my collection of toys. The pig was old – it had been through a lot as the toy of a kid and somewhere in its lifetime it had lost an eye. She asked me at least a couple of times if I wanted to keep the old one eyed pig, and every time she asked I told her it should be donated.

     We arrived at the Goodwill donation station – at that time it was a tractor-trailer parked in the grocery store parking lot – and I caught one last glimpse of the one-eyed pig before it was tossed, with the other items for donation, into the back of the tractor-trailer. Immediately I started to miss the one-eyed pig. We started to make our way home and the pig hadn’t been in the back of the truck for five minutes before my mom noticed that I was upset. When she asked what was wrong, I said “I’m sure gonna miss that old one-eyed pig.” I have no doubt that my face showed distress, so mom decided she would go back and get the one-eyed pig and bring it back to my care. She faced opposition from the guy at the truck receiving the donations but after climbing in the back of the truck herself, she retrieved the one-eyed pig and all was right with the world again.

     It seems funny to me now that I was so attached to something so simple as a one-eyed pig. Or maybe it was not the fact that I was attached to it as much as it was something I was saying goodbye to. Call it being sentimental, but I find this is true in a lot of things in our lives. When we are faced with the possibility that we have to say goodbye, we start to hold on. When the time comes for parting, we have watched for this moment and still we are not prepared. Unfortunately, unlike the one-eyed pig, most things we have to say goodbye to are not retrievable.

     My dear friend Bill Moody used to tell me, “Jason, you must go forward, you can’t go back.” There probably isn’t any other realization that is more true or more heart wrenching than that.  As you have gone through your life, think about everything that you have had to say goodbye to. Love, youth, loved ones, relationships, happiness, loneliness, some of these things are easier to say goodbye to than others. But when we do make strides to go forward, our lives become more focused on growth. Trying to live in our past isn’t always successful.

     There are a few things in my life that I can truly be considered a “nerd” when discussing. One subject, which is only second to the history of cremation, is the classic trilogy The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. One of my favorite characters is the wise, brave and gentle Gandalf – he is the trusted advisor to the bearer of the ring, Frodo Baggins. It also helps that he is a wizard. When faced with opposition while traveling deep in the perilous Mines of Moria, Frodo expresses his distress that he wished that the burden of the Ring had never come to him. Gandalf’s (or Tolkien’s) words of comfort and advice were poignant in return: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we must decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

     Living and loving, giving and receiving friendship and love has the terrible possibility and inevitability of being forced to someday say goodbye. Let’s make strides to decide to make all of our interactions count, and knowing that we will one day be forced with goodbye, we can make the time that is given to us more meaningful and important.

At least, that’s my perspective…

The Crematories of Seattle

Though the cremation movement in the Pacific Northwest began with the completion of the Portland Crematorium in 1901, Seattle certainly saw more growth in the number of crematories. Beginning with the Washington Cremation Association in 1905 until 1922, seven crematories were established in the city of Seattle alone. The number of crematories added was due to the fact that Washington's first crematory, begun by the Washington Cremation Society, went into the Undertaking business in 1911 - and was renamed for its manager and operator, Arthur Wright.

The Crematory of the Washington Cremation Society, later renamed
the Arthur Wright Company. (Built 1905)

More photos may be seen here.
Shortly thereafter, four of the funeral homes in Seattle, including Butterworth, Bonney-Watson, Bleitz, and Home, added their own crematories in the basements of their establishments. Additionally, King County discontinued the use of pauper's graves and built a crematory to take its place.
The Butterworth Mortuary at 1921 1st Avenue added a crematory
in their basement in 1912.

In 1923, Butterworth Mortuary moved to a new modern, purpose-built
funeral home at 300 E Pine Street.
The Bonney-Watson Company added a crematory to their facility at
1702 Broadway in 1913.
Bleitz Funeral Home at 316 Florentia Street added added
a crematory in 1915.
The Home Undertaking Co. was the last funeral home to follow suit
in adding a crematory, theirs in the basement of their establishment
at 9th Avenue and Union Street, added in 1916.
Unfortunately, other funeral homes that were in operation were forced to take their cremations to their competing Undertakers, as King County only did cremations for indigent individuals - so a number of these approached the Washelli Cemetery to open a crematory. In 1922, the Washelli Crematory & Columbarium was opened adjacent to Washelli Cemetery.
The Washelli Crematory and Columbarium shortly after its construction
in 1922. Washelli had the only complete cremation facility with committal
space, crematory and columbarium.
The cremation movement in Seattle was frequently disparaged by cremationists from other parts of the country, especially during the Memorial Idea period, because the Undertakers of the city often encouraged the idea that cremation was the final step - no memorialization was necessary. One cremationist in Seattle offered to "destroy" cremated remains for families - all others offered "permanent storage" in community storage. It was estimated at one time that the number of unclaimed cremated remains in Seattle outnumbered the number that were claimed by family or that were permanently memorialized.
Today, according to the statistics of the Cremation Association of North America, Washington has one of the highest cremation rates in the country. Families choosing cremation there are unlike many others in the US, as the cremation movement in Washington is now more than a hundred years in the making and families have chosen this method of disposition for generations.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Philadelphia Crematorium

The Philadelphia Crematorium was completed in the Spring of 1888, the first cremation having taken place on May 1st of that year. It was the 9th crematory built in the US. In December of 1888, the crematory developed 30 acres surrounding the building and laid it out in plots, creating the Chelten Hills Cemetery. The building still stands, though it has been adapted to add new areas, and is still in operation as a crematory.

Exterior View of the Philadelphia Crematory shortly
after its completion in 1888. (Author's Collection)
Interior View of the Philadelphia Crematory, showing
the Chapel and lowering device. (Author's Collection)

A view of the cremation chambers of the Philadelphia Crematory
(Author's Collection)